Islamic group, allies to protest Rothschild remarks

County Commissioner Richard Rothschild

A coalition of advocacy groups will hold a news conference in Carroll on Thursday to ask the County Board of Commissioners to repudiate an opinion piece written by Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, saying they believe it contains "irresponsible," "hate-filled" and "un-American" rhetoric.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national group whose stated mission is to advocate for justice and mutual understanding of the Islamic religion, along with several other constitutionally minded groups — both faith-based and secular — will be meeting at 1 p.m. outside of the Carroll County Office Building in Westminster to ask the other commissioners to reject comments by Rothschild that appeared Monday in the Carroll County Times. Other groups scheduled to join CAIR at the news conference include the ACLU of Maryland, the Interfaith Action for Human Rights and the Jewish Voice for Peace.


Leaders of the coalition intend to present a letter to the commissioners tomorrow requesting that they officially denounce Rothschild's statements.

"It's absolutely appalling the message he is sending to the public — not only his constituency, but those that live in the state and throughout the country," said Zainab Chaudry, Maryland outreach manager for CAIR. "It's not only unconstitutional but un-American and goes against the values the nation is founded on."


Rothschild defended his comments in an interview Wednesday, saying the context of his opinion piece pertained solely to the plausibility that a president could be Islamic and hold office.

"The question I was addressing was can you take an oath to Islam and the Constitution, and do they maintain mutually exclusive differences. And I believe there are irreconcilable differences, but only in the context of holding an elected office but not as a citizen," he said.

Rothschild said in the opinion piece, which defends Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson's statement that a follower of Islam should not be president, that because the country was founded on Judeo-Christian values, there are fundamental differences in these faiths that would make it irreconcilable for a president to "obey Islam and take an oath to God to defend the Constitution."

That president "will either be violating his oath to Islam, or committing perjury when he swears to uphold the Constitution," Rothschild wrote.

Chaudry questioned his sources, as she believes his column contains several inaccuracies, she said.

"I would be curious to know what he's basing this logic on," Chaudry said. "If you're going off of [Islamic] extremists and radicals who do this to advance their own personal ideologies and agendas, you are letting them speak for the vast majority of Muslims … who categorically reject what is proposed by those who use that to conduct terrorist acts."

As an elected official who is supposed to represent all of his constituents without bias, Chaudry said, the message he harbors — a bias toward Muslims — is unethical.

"It's disturbing that a commissioner with that sort of power … is sending the message that Muslims aren't entitled to the same rights as others," she said. "There are elements of hatred that are controversial in all religions, and if we allow that to divide us, it can. But the majority of Muslims are law-abiding citizens, and to allow a fringe sect to define the religion cannot be allowed."

Rothschild said his comments do not apply to any demographic group. He points to the beginning of his Monday commentary in which he wrote that "picking on any demographic group — including Muslims — is a form of racism. Understanding the threat from Islam is not."

Rothschild also said that he never said in his commentary that a Muslim American should be deprived of rights guaranteed them in the Constitution. "What my article says is, 'Can they take an oath to do both?' And my position is [the Constitution and the Islamic faith] contain incompatibilities," Rothschild said.

At least one commissioner felt such a broad and debated topic as the plausibility of a Muslim holding office should not be the concern of a local elected official. Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, said Rothschild should concern himself more with issues facing the county than writing controversial columns regarding issues that reach outside of Carroll.

"You can't make blanket statements about religions and the Constitution, and pit one against the other," Frazier said.


Board of County Commissioners Vice President Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said what Rothschild writes in his columns are "his opinion and his alone."

"They do not reflect anything that the board feels," Wantz said. "I continue to focus on governing in this county and focusing all my energies to make sure we continue to make progress in Carroll County."

If Rothschild's reasoning — that religious tenants can be construed as incompatible with upholding the Constitution — is taken to the extreme, Frazier said, the argument could be made that Christians should not serve in the military due to the Sixth Commandment, "Thou shall not kill."

"But you can do both things; you can be a Christian and defend your country," Frazier said. "So why can't you be a Muslim and be a president? There is separation of church and state in this country for a reason."



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